Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Hero’s Journey or a Rat Race of Our Own Making?

Written by: on October 23, 2023

In three weeks, the oldest of my two children turns 18. I thought having a toddler was expensive, but I have learned that having two teenage drivers with one starting college next year is much, much more expensive. As we have been churning through all the decisions that are part of this phase of childhood development, I find myself panicking about finances. And then I talk myself off the panic ledge, and then I get back on it again. In the middle of this loop, I also find myself mentally replaying a scene from West Wing, a favorite show:



In this clip, you hear a dad who has expectations and anxieties in his life. These are anxieties many of us can identify with: how to take care of one’s family, home and the work required to do so. The interesting thing to me is that every one of this character’s concerns are rooted in what Polanyi would identify as a construct of our “market system:”[2]

The case of money showed a very real analogy to that of labor and land. The application of the commodity fiction to each of them led to its effective inclusion into the market system, while at the same time grave dangers to society developed.[3]

Identifying that money, labor and land have all had value subjectively applied to them makes sense to me. Indeed, the ups and downs of the value of my own retirement fund and home are examples of how we in society apply value based on a complex web of factors that are both local and global. And, to some extent, we have subjected ourselves to a form of subservience to this system that is laden with social and environmental implications.


Just as Joseph Campbell[4] would claim is true of all the stories we tell ourselves; West Wing has created a story of a hero with a trek ahead of him. The dragon to slay on this journey is purely around concepts society has created, and as the clip demonstrates, even romanticized. When thought of in this light, the journey seems less like an epic tale and more like a rat race. I like how Dr Clark illustrates some of the contradictions in this idealized system:

 The market is, if not a false body, then at least a competing body, to which humans have ceded all sociologic, because of its promise of actualising community desire; however, it has never produced a community, but rather fostered an idealisation and unrequited desire for community.[5]

I think that we read a case study that proves Dr Clarks claim that “the market… has never produces a community.” In Duffy’s, Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything, we were shown that how we define our financial stability (at least as it pertains to our retirement planning) is rooted in these constructs. In his third chapter Duffy explains that people will gauge their own financial well-being in part, by how it compares to that of others. In short, I will feel comfortable with my own situation as long as it is better than yours.[6] This seems like a clear “keep up with the Jones’” situation that actually prevents us from hoping for the well-being of others (not to mention actually helping each other).

Polanyi’s repeated highlighting that a market-based society has built in a reinforcement of working towards one’s self-interest above all else gives cause for careful consideration. Whether or not we are discussing society’s invention of the concepts of land, money and labor, or if we are thinking about the impacts that these concepts have on our society through the factors such as social class[7] or the negative residual impacts on the environment,[8] this week’s reading is another book on the pile that calls us to put our heads up and pay attention to the impacts of the systems and institutions that we can easily take for granted. I have found myself wondering what would our world be without such constructs. What would we be like?

I enjoy my life. And I am excited to be parenting children who are beginning to draft out the stories of their own lives. But occasionally, I am struck with the question of ‘what if?’ What if whatever forces conspired in history to create this complex global market system did not occur? What would the plotlines of our respective heroes’ journey be if we were not wrestling with the rat race that has become so entrenched in our subconscious that we don’t even see we are in it?



[1] Just a Little Bit, 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJRcDHKrSqw.

[2] The fact that this award-winning TV series then goes on to develop this plot line into a story about how the federal government endeavors to solve all the problems outlined is another story for another blog post.

[3] Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation the Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, 2nd Beacon Paperback ed. (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001), 204.

[4] Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Joseph Campbell Foundation, 2020).

[5] Jason Paul Clark, “Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship,” n.d., 165.

[6] Bobby Duffy, “Why We’re Wrong about Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding” (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2019), 84.

[7] Polanyi, The Great Transformation the Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, 139.

[8] Radhika Desai, and Kari Polanyi Levitt. _Karl Polanyi and Twenty-First-Century Capitalism_. Geopolitical Economy. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e000xna&AN=2521663&scope=site, 29.

About the Author

Jennifer Vernam

14 responses to “A Hero’s Journey or a Rat Race of Our Own Making?”

  1. Kally Elliott says:

    Great job pulling in Campbell and Duffy! I had to pry a memory of those authors out of the recesses of my brain! (This is why I *should* have learned to use Obsidian!)

    I can so relate to the dad in the clip of the West Wing. It “should be hard” but maybe not THIS hard! I too have kids edging into young adulthood – two so far are there. One chose to go to college (on a full scholarship because he knew we would have to take out loans) and the other chose not to go to college (a choice I am still not 100% comfortable with). For both of them the cost of attending college weighed into their decisions.

    Your comment about this book calling us to pay attention to the impacts of the systems and institutions that we take for granted made me think of Walter Wink’s work on the powers and principalities. I need to re-read his work in light of your post and Polanyi’s book.

  2. Travis Vaughn says:

    Yesterday, my wife and I began talking about a few things we might consider on the other side of doctoral studies. These ideas were in the realm of vision/mission/calling. About two minutes into the conversation, we started asking…But how would that “make money?” Or, “would it make enough?” I wonder how deeply we have embraced the construct you referred to. Oh, how quickly we went from “epic journey” to “rat race” in less than a few sentences yesterday. Your question is a good one, and one to perhaps use in future conversations about post-doctorate visions / ideas (“What would the plotlines of our respective heroes’ journey be if we were not wrestling with the rat race that has become so entrenched in our subconscious that we don’t even see we are in it?”).

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      I agree, the switch can happen so quickly. It makes me think of the “You Are What You Love” book, and how we are in this endless struggle (at least on this side of death) to keep our loves ordered… thanks for your feedback!

  3. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    I have always been a big fan of the West Wing, Madam Secretary then Designated Survivor. My wife Trudy worked in D.C. for a bit until she got tired of the political cesspool and fled to Hungary to become a missionary (where I met here in Italy). She always reminds me that these shows are giving us a perspective where politicians are noble and self sacrificing – Human even. In short…a fantasy.

    Well I love fantasy and when I read Weber or Polanyi my stomach knots up. Capitalism and its cousin consumerism are seeping into my world. How I long for the times in Hungary when we were doing good to have an outhouse (and toilet paper).

    Being poor out of the U.S. gives you a perspective on how the “market” is so different in countries that fall into the 2nd and 3rd world categories.

    But in post communism Hungary I witnessed how capitalism seized a nation. I once heard that capitalism with out moral guard rails (like in Russia), breeds, oligarchs, mafia bosses, corrupt officials, etc… Sadly, Victor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister rules the roost – part oligarch, part dictator he has seized the press and thus the minds of the people. Ahhh.. the power of money.


    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      You hit all the highlights with your political TV show references! I think that the reason these shows resonate is because they are romanticized. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could expect our leaders to operate from an altruistic place?

  4. mm Kim Sanford says:

    Thanks for your post and bonus points for including the West Wing.

    As you mention, we’ve been reading a pile of books about capitalism and I’m starting to feel like we’ve all gone round and round discussing the problem without coming up with much in terms of a solution (probably because there isn’t really one, as we’ve also discussed at length.)

    So because I despair of finding a systemic solution, I want to share an anecdote about one individual doing what he can. You say we find ourselves in a “situation that actually prevents us from hoping for the well-being of others (not to mention actually helping each other).” That reminded me of a friend here in France whose family lives on limited means. He once shared with us, with a big smile and clear joy pouring out of him, how he went to the magasin solidaire (a store where low-income families can buy groceries at greatly reduced prices, almost a food pantry but not quite) and they had just received a shipment of bananas. So he bought as many bananas as he could carry, walked home and as he walked he started offering them to the kids sitting on the park bench, and then the construction workers on his street. Finally, he was ringing his neighbors’ doorbells, joyfully giving away these bananas. I share this because as he was telling this story I was thinking, “Why are you doing this? You need those bananas too!” but his joy was so obvious. It was a beautiful reminder to give joyfully, even sacrificially as an act of worship.

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      I like your illustration- mostly because if we focus on systemic solutions, we will be always discouraged by the fact that we can not fix humanity. But, if we focus on the little bit we can do- to keep our eyes looking to how we can show a bit of Christ where we are- that is empowering. Thanks for the comment.

  5. mm Tim Clark says:

    What an insightful post!!

    But I need to get 2 things off my chest first:

    1. Teenagers are expensive, but wait until they are young adults!!! Ouch.

    2. You had me at “West Wing”.

    Seriously our favorite show. Of all time. And Sorkin has some challenging things to say about a Self-Regulating Market sprinkled throughout the show. Not that our system is evil, but that we must be warned against the hurt its excesses bring about.

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      I have lost track of how many times I have watched THE ENTIRE series. I think my kids know the show’s theme music by heart. Yes, it is idealized, but still… I feel like it increased my awareness about the procedural details of our government that is illuminating.

  6. Esther Edwards says:

    Your ending question of “What would the plotlines of our respective heroes’ journey be if we were not wrestling with the rat race that has become so entrenched in our subconscious that we don’t even see we are in it?” has been one I have thought much about as I am on the other side of college decisions and our four daughters are all married (as of October 15th!). Life is a rat race with all that family life, work and ministry entails. I still feel in the rat race but it differs from my past season. I just wonder, though, if we think this is worse than families working hard on the farms to simply put food on the table in yesteryears. In some ways it seemed simpler and more community minded for sure. Might it have been even harder or easier? Working sun up to sun down and wondering if the coming crop would actually be enough to support the household.

    A word that I will be using in furthering my NPO is “nostalgia”. Martyn Percy touched on this at our seminar in Oxford. He stated that “nostalgia” was a 17th century word meaning “before.” It was applied to Swiss soldiers that got homesick for their country. “It’s not how it ought to be.”
    This word carries such health in remembering, but unhealth in remaining there. Percy also in the next sentences talked about how healthy humor was to lead as change is needed. I must say, even in the rat race, we laughed much as a family. Thank goodness for a husband that was a 7 on the enneagram.

  7. Jennifer Vernam says:

    Two things-
    1: Is it true that we get in the rat race when we stop filtering our lives through a Christ-centered lens?

    2: I think I mentioned to you in Oxford that I had heard the line that nostalgia is really just a longing for a time when we were winning… do you agree? How does that influence/impact your idea of remembrance?

  8. mm Jana Dluehosh says:


    So timely! I too find myself in the loop of what to “do” with my Doctorate, my hopes and dreams and what I’d like it to do for me, after all it is an investment! But trapped in the what I want to do but knowing it won’t pay me what I need as I anticipate sending my teens to college soon. We spend a college education every year paying for our special needs son’s education because our public school system was failing him. It wasn’t failing him in keeping in school (which is a problem now in post pandemic world with our special needs kiddos) but that it had no vested interest in helping him thrive. Our own Declaration of Independence says we have the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, or another way of understanding pursuit of a Life full of meaning! I’m excited to see how our lives continue to move and change as we continue on our course. Thank you for the clip from West Wing, it was helpful to put this into context a little more. How do you hold space between enjoying the moments you have with your kids and the anxiety of what the future holds?

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      A great question. I am pleasantly surprised to find that spending time with my kids actually serves as an antidote to the anxiety…

      First, they are a kick to hang out with, so right there, my blood pressure goes down.

      Second, being with them is a reminder of God’s faithfulness, as I have seen it play out in their lives in surprising ways… Recalling the provisions He has already made in protecting our little tribe reminds me that He will continue to do so.

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